Halton Teachers Explore SMART Board Technology

Teachers are hoping their students will become more engaged in their education and less bored if they are taught in classrooms equipped with a radically different kind of blackboard — an interactive whiteboard. Several SMART Boards were recently on display in a room at the Burlington Holiday Inn as 200 teachers and school board administrators from Halton, Hamilton and the Niagara region attended a seminar on the electronic teaching technology.

The level of interest in the SMART Board on this day was well beyond the expectations of John Palbom, an educational technologies consultant and trainer with Advanced Presentation Solutions, a Mississauga-based company that sells the technology and conducts training and information sessions.

“We were expecting maybe 40-45 (teachers) and we’ve got 190 signed up,” said Palbom, who led the day’s demonstration of the SMART Board technology.

The SMART Board is described as a digital, interactive whiteboard. Using SMART Notebook software and a SMART Board attached to a floor stand, along with a data projector hooked up to a computer, teachers can quickly display, move or erase text or images on the 77-inch screen, as well as save, store and replay various aspects of classroom lessons.

The technology — a Calgary couple developed it and sold the first unit in 1991 — utilizes a touch-sensitive white screen that connects to a computer (PC or Mac) and a data projector. Computer applications can be controlled by touching the illuminated white display board with on-screen lessons highlighted via use of four-coloured digital ink (optical sensor) pens. For those who don’t want to use a pen, a hand-shaped pointer or even your finger can be used to touch or draw on the screen.

Some graphic elements can be copied and pasted or even written over top of. An Ink Aware system enables the user to insert text, handwriting or images to applications like Word, Excel and Power Point. The software allows access to 36 languages. Various keyboard configurations can be activated for writing text on the screen.

One Halton Catholic school board vice-principal is sold on the merits of the technology.

“I’ve heard about it but didn’t know enough about it. I want to learn more about so we can implement it in our schools,” Yolanda Esposito, vice-principal at St. Andrew elementary in Oakville, said about her reason for taking in the seminar.

Esposito said she would report her findings to her school and its school council. Cost is an issue, but she said they are interested in purchasing two of the SMART Boards for use as soon as the current school term.

Palbom asked for a show of hands to gauge teacher familiarity with the technology and about half of the 200 or so in the audience indicated they already use a SMART Board, with about half of that group saying they have had the board for anywhere from six months to two years.

Appleby College, a private high school in Oakville, has used interactive whiteboard technology in its classrooms for 10 years.

The seminar crowd consisted of teachers with 1-25 years or more of classroom experience.

“What I find really amazing is that the majority of teachers here are experienced ones. That says (to me) that good things are happening in education,” Palbom told the Post before the seminar, noting he would have expected a higher percentage of newer teachers to be more interested in the technology.

“The intent is that the students are in there manipulating the technology and interacting,” said Palbom.

Students can go up to the interactive whiteboard and use a digital pen or pointer.

In fact, the seminar began with a one-hour open period for teachers to get up close to the SMART Board and experiment with its touch features.

“At schools fortunate enough to have them, interactive whiteboards are a blessing for educators struggling to engage a generation of students weaned on the Internet,” said Palbom.

To get a deeper understanding of their students, a teacher can gauge their comprehension of a lesson or concept, and identify individuals in need, by using the Senteo interactive response system.

An optional product, the Senteo system uses a wireless hand-held device that looks like a cross between a calculator and an older model cellphone. Each student can be given one. A teacher can then pose questions or quiz students and get instant digital feedback about each child’s level of understanding and determine who needs more help.

Teachers can save digital files in various formats and even e-mail parts of lessons to students for them to review.

The area sales manager for SMART Technologies, which sells the SMART Board and its accessories, said the technology probably won’t completely replace the traditional classroom blackboard but that it can replace about 80-90 per cent of what is done on one and in a different way.

“It’s meant to be touched,” said Mike Ward. “Touch is a great way of learning.

“It’s a new medium for teachers. You can save daily lessons and e-mail them home to parents so you can see what your child’s doing from day to day.”

Ward said the British government is mandating that interactive whiteboards be in all its classrooms by 2009.

Education is the largest market for the SMART Board and related products, said Ward, but he noted the military and business sectors use it too, for presentations and personnel training.

Ward said Hockey Night in Canada TV analyst Kelly Hrudey will be using a SMART Board this hockey season to help make his points and that the CBC would be using one on election night.

As for cost, Ward said one SMART Board with a stand is about $1,450. A data projector ($700) and a computer (laptop or desktop unit) are necessary hardware and cost extra.

Optional items include a document camera ($800), which displays real-time or saved images or video on screen, and the Senteo classroom clickers, which cost about $2,000 for 32 of the student hand-held units.

If you want to explore the SMART Board and its related products, contact Advanced Inc. now or call  (800) 436-6239.

Source: The Burlington Post

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